Holden's small hatchback, the Barina Spark, has taken the 2014 Top Safety Pick Award for minicars in the United States.

The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety has chosen the Spark as the only minicar out of 11 to achieve an acceptable rating in small overlap front crash tests.

The small overlap test introduced in 2012 replicates what happens when the front corner of a vehicle collides with another one, or an object such as a tree.

In the test, 25 per cent of the front end on the driver's side strikes a barrier at about 60km/h.


Institute senior vice-president Joe Nolan said that when a vehicle's structure did not hold up, injury risk was high - collapsing structures could knock frontal airbags and seats out of position.

"Small, lightweight vehicles have an inherent safety disadvantage and that's why it's even more important to choose one with best occupant protection, but in many size categories manufacturers have improved structures," said Nolan.

Holden New Zealand managing director Jeff Murray said this kind of test showed the importance placed on safety in all the company's vehicles.

"We are particularly proud when the smallest car in our portfolio achieves such a high crash test rating, especially when compared to other cars in its class. Holden places a lot of emphasis on safety and it is pleasing when any one of our cars tests so well," said Murray.

All minicars tested had low ratings for restraints and kinematics except the Spark and one other car. Seven of the 11 were downgraded for too much occupant forward motion during tests.

In two of the worst-performing cars, intruding structure compromised the driver's space and the steering column was pushed towards the driver.

In the case of one vehicle the dummy's head barely contacted the frontal airbag before sliding off and hitting the instrument panel. In another car test, the driver door opened after the hinges tore.